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Are banks social enough for social media?

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Historically banks have been reluctant to warm up to social media as a means of communication and customer service. However, if the proliferation of conferences on the subject is anything to go by e.g. Bank Innovation (USA), Social Media in Payments (UK) & the upcoming Social Banking forum in Paris, then it looks like the industry is taking steps to embrace this new communications channel.

My colleague, Tim Cawsey, Gemalto’s Head of Social, pointed out in his recent post that financial institutions rely heavily on customer trust, yet have been one of the slowest sectors to create social media programs. Some banks are getting in the game, but not all have developed the necessary social media strategies to meet customer demands.

A recent Assetinum survey provided a ranking for banks’ social media and e-reputation activities. The survey included 50 of the largest banks worldwide and analyzed factors such as; influence on social media outlets, image and customer relations. Out of the 50 banks assessed, 42 had Twitter accounts, but only half were actively engaging in what their users were saying. This disparity is cause for concern in terms of brand reputation especially as banks are the number one target for complaints on social media, for example when customers of NatWest in the UK recently took to Twitter during an ATM outage.

Some banks are taking the initiative to deal first hand with creating an online rapport with customers via social media. One bank that keeps popping up as a social media user is the multi-national Standard Chartered. While their social media efforts are not necessarily customer assistance platforms, they are actively interacting with the online community reaching out to a new generation of clients that are growing up with social media. One example is their coolest intern campaign.

If it was a popularity contest, French bank BNP Paribas would be a social butterfly. A Financial Times article stated that in 2011 the bank who joined social media in 2010 had one of the largest followings including >120,000 Face book fans. Société Générale came second place in Assetinum’s social media survey, outranking several British banks and it seems that French financial institutions were quicker to embrace social media platforms than their British counterparts.

This wasn’t the case however with First Direct, internet branch of HSBC, who have won many plaudits for their social media activities. They recommend not “jumping into every conversation but creating opportunities to have deeper dialogue with people.” In fact, the dialogue should be coherent with the spirit of social media, which is more casual than the traditionally formal banking tone of voice.

The relationship between banks and social media is a learning process and is important for their future to give it a try, since the next generations of clients communicate on these platforms. An effective way for banks to maximize their social media influence is sharing experiences, and opening the topic up for discussion. To foster this exchange in France the “Courrier de la Monetique” and “Club CSA” partnered with Gemalto to organize a banking and social media conference to discuss the value for financial institutions to evolve with the social media revolution. If you’re interested in finding out more on this conference in Paris on 3rd October, follow us on Twitter for an update on the day.

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